So, this was my first solo trip and I had been planning for this for a couple of months about the route and the places to visit. I set forth to explore the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, one of the many underrated and unexplored destinations in India. I boarded Shatabdi Express to Kalka from New Delhi and reached Kalka by night, took a cab to Shimla and stayed there for the night to catch the early morning 7am bus to Reckong Peo, the district capital of Kinnaur, the next morning.
Day 1: Shimla to Reckong Peo After scaring me with tremendous rainfall in the morning, Shimla bids adieu to me for Reckong Peo. A ten hour long journey from Shimla by the Himachal Road Transport Corporation took me through the lower Himalayas to the 7500feet high town of Kinnaur, Reckong Peo. The ride was comfortable but the roads in Kinnaur are scary because of the ‘shooting stones’ zones. As our bus entered the Kinnaur district such scary roads started. I was trying to click pictures of the road when suddenly a very loud sound came from the top of our bus, yes it was a shooting stone. Fortunately nothing happened to our bus and the journey continued. I had a fear in my mind since I was travelling alone, but this incident washed it all away and I remember it as ‘the moment’. As the bus entered the Reckong Peo town, I could see only snow capped peaks all around shining bright even at 7:15pm in the evening. I was speechless to see snow laden peaks from so close. I stayed at a budget hotel near the bus stand for the night to catch another HRTC bus to Nako the next morning.
Day 2: Peo to Nako The excitement of spending the night at a town surrounded by snow clad mountains all around could not let me sleep as soon as sun was out. I got up and looked out from my window to see one of the peaks with the snow on it shining so bright. I packed my bags again and got ready for Nako, around 90kms away towards the Spiti valley. I took the Peo-Kaza HRTC bus which started at 6:45am, the bus was pretty much full by the time it was leaving the Peo town. I discovered the shooting location of the movie ‘Highway’ where the dance sequence of ‘Wanna Mashup’ was shot at Peo while the bus was heading ahead. The roads were as scary as the ones I traversed through Kinnaur last day, this time much narrower. There were long halts due to road construction at regular interims. 9:OOam: The bus passes through the village of Akpa. A green valley, the Sutlej river probably flowing somewhere from the glistening blue-white mountains behind, a bridge which allows only one vehicle at a time to cross on it, all these put together gave a ‘picture perfect’ moment to my lens. This was just the beginning, there were so many beautiful sights to cherish for the lifetime ahead in the day. 10:30am: The bus gives us a breakfast break of 15 minutes in the village of Spillow and all I was looking for was Momos. So I went to the momo shop with no name and the lady served me mutton momos with soup. It was the first time I was having mutton momos, had heard a lot about it from one of my Himachali friends earlier, and it was utterly delicious. I was so glad with the food that I took a pic with the master chef. 1:00pm: The bus crossed a long distance through the villages of Poo, Moorang, through officially one of the most treacherous roads in the world and it now crosses the confluence of the rivers Sutlej and Spiti to climb along the Spiti river to the village of Nako. As the bus climbs the view just gets more and more beautiful. I was entering a cold desert, a terrain I had never seen in life before. The view and the journey till Nako could only be expressed through a poem which is my next post. 3:00pm: I reached the village of Nako and I just kept gazing around in silence for a while. Had I seen anything more beautiful than this before? It was unfair to compare this place with any other places I had visited. I was immensely overwhelmed. Had a lunch at the Dhaba at Nako bus stand, took my walking stick out and just started walking to the village. The one km long walk took me quite a while because I was still sinking in with bliss this 12000feet high village offered me. I would let the pictures and poem do the rest of the talking for the Expirience called NAKO. I stayed at a budget hotel, quite like a village homestay with the feel of a hut and believe me I would love to go and stay there itself and not a posh luxurious hotel as it completely goes with the mood of the place and the surroundings. I stayed there for a couple of nights.
Day 3: Trek from Nako to Tashigong, four tramps, one purpose: Bliss! I wanted to visit the village of Tashigong by trekking- the last Indian village before Tibet, 12 kms from Nako, but did not plan about it till the day before. When I visited the Nako monastery the last evening the Lama and his junior trainee told me about Tashigong and showed me the way to it. I was a bit skeptical to go alone on a 12kms trek because I did not know how the route will be. But I guess He listened to my prayers last evening at the monastery and the Lamas suddenly got an idea in their mind to visit Tashigong since they had been planning about it for quite some time. I told them I would meet them early in the morning and start. Meanwhile while I was exploring the village, I came across another solo traveller, a guest to our country from Israel, Gil Zissin, who has come for a year long trip to India and now he was in Nako. While talking to him I got to know that he has also heard about Tashigong and wants to visit it. So the four of us planned to start our journey together the next morning. 7:30am: DOCTOR SHAKSHUKA CAFE, So I went to this strange sounding cafe to have my breakfast and met the owner cum cook cum guide of this cafe, Dipender Ji. When he came to know that I am a bong, he started talking to me in Bengali and kept talking about delicious Bengali food which he could make. I was overwhelmed. By then Gil joined us and ordered the Tunisian/Israeli dish Shakshuka. This is when Dipender Ji told us the story behind the name of his cafe. The story goes like this, in 2007 a group of Israeli travellers came to Nako and one of them fell quite ill because of the food. That time, Dipender cooked Shakshuka for him every day for a week and everyday he kept recovering. The Israeli was fit after a week and this gave Dipender the idea to name his cafe DOCTOR SHAKSHUKA CAFE. 10:00am: After breakfast, Gil, the two Lamas and me started on our trek to Tashigong. I carried a big rucksack on my back with a few warm clothes in case we get stuck somewhere or had to stay back there in Tashigong. As we climbed the mountains I was finding it quite difficult mainly because of the extra kilos I had put on in the last two months of internship. I was so wishing I had not eaten so much when Gil offered me to exchange bags as his was lighter than mine. I was a bit hesitant but he insisted so I happily gave my bag to him and continued comfortably. We continued to climb for quite sometime till we reached a point from where we had to keep walking on the edge of mountains. This was also the point from where we saw the highest peak in Himachal, the Reo Purgyil at 22362feet. 1:00pm: While on the trek my three companions were quite ahead of me since all three of them had that ‘mountain genes’ in them. The Lamas were from Kinnaur having made so many treks like this. Gil fresh returned from his compulsory 3 year army stint in Israel was very active and always led us. So I was the one lagging behind and at times I could not find the three of them even far far ahead of me which is when I used to get demotivated and a bit scared of the wild fauna which I expected, but fortunately was missing. I was panting for breath at a point of time because of the steepness and a lot of perspiration. This is when I recalled my previous trek by TSAF and the trek to the holy shrine of Vaishno Devi. I kept chanting ‘Jay Mata Di’ in a sort of dual voice, one is was speaking out and one in mind, this boosted my confidence and I could feel the divinity. I was able to walk now for much longer distances without taking rest. 3:30pm: After trekking for 12kms through the edge of the 12000feet+ mountains with dangerous unstable routes at times mostly alone, we reached Tashigong village. We took some rest of the rocks outside the monastery there and then went inside. We were very hungry since we had our breakfast quite early in the morning. So the Lamas tried to arrange some food for us in the village. This is when I got an oppurtunity to go inside a village house. A village woman Sonam Didi became our host and offered us tea at her home. She lived in a small hut, it seemed to be a poor household but it was self sufficient. She offered to cook lunch for us but we insisted not to since Gil and me wanted to return to Nako that day itself. But we all were actually very hungry, so when she insisted further, we agreed and she cooked ‘Kadhi Chawal’ for us. She cooked the food within 20-25 minutes and it tasted much much delicious than a buffet dinner in an elite restaurant. This was because of the warmth of the person who cooked and the way she served us I felt quite at home. 4:30pm: Me and Gil finished our lunch soon and we planned to climb down the mountain through a shortcut suggested by another villager, Palden Negi. This route was supposed to be 8kms long until we could reach NH22 from where we could get a vehicle for Nako if we reach by 6:30/7pm. With so many if conditions, we started climbing down. Climbing down was much easier and the route was much less risky. We came across pitch black horses, sheeps and heard drill shelling from the mountains of Tibet probably by their army just in front of Tashigong. By 6:30pm we reached the base of the mountain and by 7:30pm we got to NH22, completing the 22kms trek in just 7.5 hours. It gave an immense feeling of joy, achievement and fulfillment on reaching the highway. 7:50pm: After waiting for a while we got to hitchhike in a private cab coming from Chandigarh. The awesomeness of the day was yet to be over because we met these two young adventure freaks who were out for their first camping trip to Kinnaur. One of them was a lawyer, (cant recall his name) and the other a journalist,Himanshu but no one can probably predict their profession by their attitude and coolness. Which I am saying this is because the lawyer was a musician and they had put a camera on top of their car to record the path they were traversing to use the video in his music video. There was one more instance which was amazing that night. While the two played the famous number “Animals’ by Martin Garrex in the car and we were discussing philosophical stuff like there is an animal in every one of us, we came across a Himalayan fox crossing the road while approaching Nako. Its glistening eyes and long tail is a sight I would remember for a long long time.
Day 4: Nako To Kalpa A new day that started at 5:30am to catch a HRTC bus from Nako Bus stand for Reckong Peo at 7am. I reached the Nako Helipad bus stand on time, and kept looking at the Nako village from there feeling a bit low since I was leaving this beautiful village. I kept waiting for the bus to come and was getting impatient since it was 10:00am and the morning bus which was supposed to come from Kaza at 7-8am had not arrived yet. So I tried to get a lift in private cabs but in vain. At around 11:00am a localite was crossing the bus stand with his pickup van and I successfully hitchhiked this time. The guy, Shant, was another wonderful person to interact with. He is a Punjab University graduate in Chemical Engineering, but has always been an adventure freak. So after his graduation and probably doing some job, he quit and started adventure camps with a business partner in Nako, his hometown and various other places in Kinnaur district. The website goes here: http://www.kinnercamps.com/index.html
I was really happy to meet and interact with him because he was living his passion and made it his profession, a few lucky ones get to do that. He was going for some business purpose to Reckong Peo and like most of the other Kinnaur people I had a chance to interact with, he was kind and welcoming too. After a quicker journey back to Peo than the bus ride,we reached Peo at around 3pm. I thanked Shant and took a mini bus to Kalpa, the beautiful small town at 9711 feet a half an hour ride from Peo. I stayed at a Bengali hotel in Kalpa and the view from my window was out of the world. The Kalpa monastery and the Kinner Kailash peak in the background made my evening. I went out to explore the town, monastery and houses in Kalpa. This is when I met an old couple doing carpentry at their small wooden house. I was so overwhelmed with the people around, the houses, the view of the Himalayas from there that I decided to just sit on a rock and write a poem right there.
Day 5: A walk from Kalpa to Roghi A true traveller's visit to Kalpa is incomplete without a walk in the morning to Roghi village, some 4kms away. So, there I was, the only one walking on the mountain road leading to Roghi and I must admit it was the most amazing and beautiful morning walk I had taken ever. The walk leads you through the Kinnaur ranges on your left, and a few turns with the shadows of Devdar trees doing the tricks with sunlight, a waterfall on the mountain in front of you and the fresh air. I took time to look around and feel the calmness of the road and was totally moved. On reaching the village, I got to interact with a few villagers who told me about the season of fruits and season of snowfall. They were very kind to drop me back to Kalpa by their own car. The people of Himachal are the kindest ones I have ever come across. :) You can find a little conversation with them here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVuDbW2eE3U
Last Day: Chitkul After returning from Roghi, I went back to Reckong Peo bus stand to catch a bus to Chitkul, the last Indian village before Tibet near Sangla. I reached Chitkul through a dream like surroundings with snow capped peaks just a few feets away amidst beautifu green patches. At one point on the road to Chitkul the bus crosses a beautiful stream coming down from the molten snow. This amazing trip couldn't have had a better ending if it was not for Chitkul. The village in the valley is a like a paradise- extremely clean, surrounded by snow peaks all around, wonderful people keeping the village lively with their cattles and a small temple with evening prayers. I would mention other details in the things to do section next. Things not to miss in Chitkul: 1) Take a walk in the evening to the village by entering through the Hindu temple. The village houses are picturesque with the mountains in the background, the people are very courteous and kind to travellers. The small stream through the village gives a nice background music while exploring. 2) Walk to the ITBP check post in the morning: A 3-4kms walk to the last reachable point in Chitkul, the Indo Tibet Border Police check post is another speechless experience and should not be missed. There is no proper road to the place, its a path used by the village farmers for their day to day needs. While walking, you will have the Baspa river to your right and the snow covered mountains in front with the sun rising behind them. The walk towards the check post will take you to a point where it has been clearly mentioned on a sign board by the security force not to go beyond it. You can sit at one of the lush green fields there to gaze the surroundings and be overwhelmed like I did.